Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"As a history and celebration of Brando's life and eccentricities, it's hard to beat."

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to catch the Maysles brothers 3 Shorts at the Edinburgh Film Festival. One of them focused on Brando, filming him as he was interviewed - and ran rings round - a rapid succession of reporters. It was clear he carried charisma in spades and yet, he became something of a laughing stock in the eyes of the Press in later years. But was that really the case?

This illuminating documentary - which includes a short snipped from the Maysles' outing - sheds light on the mystery that was Marlon. Three years after his death, friends and colleagues speak about a man who they clearly remember with a fondness, despite his eccentricity.

Copy picture

Detailing his early life with an alcoholic mother and distant, salesman dad, Leslie Greif and Mimi Freedman try to piece together the background of the man dubbed variously "the pioneer" (Johnny Depp), "molecule jiggler" (Quincy Jones) and several other absolutes.

It's fair to say that there's not much room for criticism, Jane Fonda hints at his slight dismissiveness towards women, a fact surely attested to by the string of wives he accrued over his lifetime, and Dennis Hopper recalls quite fondly how he refused to act with him on Apocalypse Now (by all accounts in the doc this is unsurprising since "Dennis stank") but for the most part the stars come to praise, not to bury him.

When it comes to the devil of the detail as regards his craft, this film gives out in spades. Taking a romp through his extensive back catalogue, the succession of talking heads flesh out how he came to move from stage to screen, his relationship with director Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront) and, what appears to have been, his actual dislike of working.

An inspiration to many of us, even outside the acting world, it seems that he only worked when he needed the money.

The anecdotes come thick and fast, with Ed Begley's revelation about Brando's plan to power his house with electric eels and Johnny Depp's description of how he convinced Brando he was about to explode, thanks to a fart machine particularly interesting. Conspicuous by their absence are several directors, most notably Francis Ford Coppola - itself a testament to how tricky Brando could be to work with; it seems he liked to push them to the end of their tether before coming up with the goods.

If this is a fault, however, the documentary (shot as a two-parter for Turner Classic Movies, so likely coming to BBC4 sometime in the future) compensates with never-before seen footage of Brando's screentest for Rebel Without A Cause and some illuminating observations from his son.

Adding further interest are a series of segments from interviews Brando gave to the likes of Ed Morrow, which clearly display his charm, penchant for drumming ("he drummed on everything") and, in one particular instance, his unfortunate relationship with his hard-line dad.

As a history and celebration of Brando's life and eccentricities, it's hard to beat and will doubtless inspire many to take a fresh look at his back catalogue.

Reviewed on: 01 May 2007
Share this with others on...
Brando packshot
Documentary exploring the life of Marlon Brando and his enduring contribution to cinema.

Director: Leslie Greif, Mimi Freedman

Starring: Johnny Depp, Ed Begley Jnr, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall

Year: 2007

Runtime: 166 minutes

Country: US


Bradford 2008

Search database: